Economist 2/11/15

  1. Making such marine acid measurements is important, however, in order to track the acidification of the ocean which is being brought about by rising carbon-dioxide levels in the air. The XPRIZE foundation, a charity that runs technology competitions, has therefore put up $2m in prize money, to be awarded to those inventors who can come up with devices which will do that tracking best.At the industrial era’s dawn in the mid-18th century, the ocean’s surface waters had a pH of 8.2. Since then, they are reckoned to have absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. That has reduced average surface pH to 8.1—a fall that may sound trivial but, because the pH scale is logarithmic, equates to a 25% increase in acidity.Many sea-creatures, though, make their shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate—materials that dissolve in acids.At the moment, the machines used to measure seawater’s pH cost $10,000-20,000 a pop, and cannot be deployed at depth because the pressure there will damage them.
  2. Last month Callie Granade, a federal judge appointed by George W Bush, struck down Alabama’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. On February 8th, just before the first gay marriages were due to take place, Roy Moore, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, ordered probate judges in Alabama not to allow them. Judge Moore begged the Supreme Court to delay gay weddings in Alabama until it makes its own nationwide ruling on gay marriage. America’s highest court said no.The number of states that allow same-sex nuptials has jumped from 19 to 37 in the past four months. Many expect gay marriages to be allowed in all 50 states by this summer.
  3. The traditional family unit is falling apart in Iran, as elsewhere: around one in three marriages in the capital, Tehran, fails.The Shia form of Islam practiced in Iran allows sigheh, or temporary marriage that can last for as little as an hour.In any case, under-30s, who make up 55% of Iran’s population of 77m, seem far more interested in brief flings than marriage. Hence some 300 “immoral” Western-style dating websites have sprung up of late. Unable to close them all down, the state’s moral guardians have decided to turn matchmaker instead.Rather than let their parents or the government arrange their future, many adolescents find inventive ways of meeting. One of the most common is dor-dor (“turn, turn” in Farsi) where telephone numbers are exchanged out of the windows of cars in the street—about as public as flirting can get in Iran.Women make up more than 60% of university students and the better-educated no longer long to be wives first.
  4. For three years in a row, congestion in Los Angeles has been the worst in America. That is good news for Howard Becker, the founder of Becker Automotive.Today, he customises cars and vans for clients such as Mark Wahlberg, an actor, and King Abdullah of Jordan.The vans take up to seven months to complete and come with such features as touch-screen computers, wireless Internet, cable TV, seats for half a dozen people, bathrooms—and, in one case, an exercise bicycle welded to the floor so the owner could work out.Becker cars are not cheap: they range from $150,000 for a basic rolling palace to more than $500,000 for an armoured one.On the inside, Mr Becker’s cars can be as opulent as you like, but most customers prefer the outside to be understated.
  5. IN 2007 Bradley Birkenfeld, an American employed by UBS, approached officials in Washington. His revelations about the bank’s surreptitious servicing of thousands of rich, tax-dodging Americans started a war on Swiss moneymen.Eight brutal years later, far from being over, it has become bogged down. Some large banks, including UBS and Credit Suisse, have been punished. But America is refusing to strike deals with several others until a programme to penalise dozens of smaller banks has run its course—and this is behind schedule.America’s battle against individual Swiss bankers, meanwhile, has been inconsistently fought, with some big losses along the way. The biggest potential scalp, Raoul Weil, formerly the head of wealth management at UBS, walked free last year after a trial in Florida. One of his former right-hand men, Martin Liechti, received a non-prosecution agreement—despite being described in court filings by Mr Birkenfeld’s lawyers as the “chief architect, orchestrator and director of the entire UBS fraud committed against the United States”.Birkenfeld himself spent three years in an American prison and, though he later received a hefty reward from the IRS for blowing the whistle.
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